Time to set your resolutions

KEEPING HENS: Means you will enjoy the freshest eggs possible.

With the festive season over and a day’s rest after the Three Kings celebrations, it is perhaps opportune to set some New Year gardening resolutions before you are overtaken by the winter cut back, which may need more days of winter exercise than normal. 

The extra work caused by the exceptional autumn growth of many perennial plants as a result of the almost perfect growing conditions of bright sunshine, light showers and heavy overnight dews. 

So what are your priorities for the year ahead? May I take the liberty of offering a few suggestions.

1. Finally make the garden an ecological haven and persuade your Spanish and expat neighbours to do likewise.

There are plenty of ecological insecticides, fungicides and fertilisers available in thoughtful garden centres and agricultural cooperatives, and also by email. If stuck have a look at the website of Trabe, it has an English version. 

When I was at school I was taught that the air we breathe in non-polluted places included 20.5 per cent of vital oxygen. I read recently that with the heavy pollution of the Mediterranean coastal belt this is now down to 19 per cent, although it was 25 per cent in the time of the dinosaurs and the appearance of new plant species.

2. Aim to eat more of your Mediterranean diet from the garden and recognise that an essential ingredient in that diet was the absorption of around 350 grams of oxygen from herb smelling air. A full description of a traditional healthy holistic Mediterranean diet is provided in chapter 3.3 of my book ‘Living well from  our garden  Mediterranean Style – Spiritually, mentally, physically, gastronomically and economically’.

3. With forecasts of continuing reductions in annual rainfalls in the Mediterranean regions of Spain and further increases in costs per metre, aim to reduce the watering needs of your garden by 20 per cent or more.  The book ‘How to use less water in your garden – A practical guide to waterwise Mediterranean style gardening worldwide’ considers the water needs of some 30 types of gardens, presents some 300 practical ideas for reducing water needs and in appendices presents useful plant lists of the more drought resistant plants for our gardens.

4. Complete the winter cut back asap to enjoy the dry sunny winter days and give pruned plants the maximum time to build up strength for spring growth.

5. Keep a couple of hens to eat kitchen and garden waste and lay two or three eggs a day of top quality. 

Friends who regularly buy even ecological eggs say the quality of the yolks do not equal those of the eggs they occasionally have from my hens. 

Hens can also make good friendly pets. We started to have a couple of hens when local producers of eco eggs decided that EU regulations had become prohibitive, and we had an interesting experience on an AVE train from Cordoba to Valencia, in president class because the tourist carriages were fully booked.  

Once the ticket checker had left the carriage a well-dressed, 80-year-old lady sitting opposite us laid out small bowls of water and grain on her fold down table and then took out a fully grown hen from a basket to have its breakfast. 

She explained to us that she lived with her chicken pet in a seventh floor apartment in the centre of Barcelona. The hen had a metre square run on the balcony with a hen-door into the kitchen where it had a further one metre run and an egg laying box. This was next to the cooker so a fresh egg for breakfast could not be fresher.

6. With that I am off for my own omelette for breakfast filled with just harvested healthy shiitake mushrooms grown in the empty garage alongside Oyster mushrooms. These take less effort than any other vegetable. Try it yourself.

© Dick Handscombe 
January 2016

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